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Forestry, fisheries crimes lost in red tape: minister

Forestry, fisheries crimes lost in red tape: minister

AGRICULTURE Minister Chan Sarun has accused courts of dragging their feet on forestry, agriculture and fisheries crimes, claiming 70 percent nationwide have not been to trial.

In remarks delivered to Forestry Administration workers in Phnom Penh, a copy of which was obtained yesterday, Chan Sarun attributed the backlog to “a lack of cooperation”.

“Roughly 70 percent of agriculture, forestry and fisheries crimes have not been tried in the courts because there is a lack of cooperation with court prosecutors, and staff do not continue observing these cases,” he said.

Earlier this year, the government launched a high-profile crackdown on illegal logging prompted by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who told military commanders in January that he would no longer tolerate their involvement in such crimes.

In April, the premier removed Ty Sokun from his position as director of the Forestry Administration, citing a failure to curb illegal logging.

But conservation experts have criticised the crackdown as “toothless”, saying officials complicit in illegal logging have rarely been made to stand trial.

Chan Sarun’s remarks, delivered on Friday during a meeting assessing the Forestry Administration’s performance through the first half of the year, also criticised low-level administration officials for a lack of diligence. A list of recommendations called on those officials to “take urgent and strict action to crack down on all illegal logging and to prevent it from happening within the boundary of their authority”.

“We must gather the luxury wood that we have cracked down on and confiscate, and auction it to the public,” he said. “The income from the sales should be put into the state budget.”

His speech did not include the number of forestry, agriculture and fisheries crimes referred to the courts, and Chan Sarun could not be reached yesterday for comment.

Chiv Keng, head of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said yesterday that he believed the figures quoted by Chan Sarun were “old”, though he acknowledged that provincial courts could to much to speed up the process of trying illegal logging cases.

“The courts have tried almost all the cases, including the Phnom Penh Municipal Court,” he said. “I have urged the provincial courts to try all of the [illegal logging] cases.”

However, Siem Reap provincial court prosecutor Ty Soveinthal said yesterday that his court did not have any outstanding illegal logging cases. He said he did not know exactly how many had been tried.

Tim Sypha, director of the ministry’s Law Enforcement Department, said yesterday that, in response to Chan Sarun’s comments, he had ordered officials to cooperate further with prosecutors. “We have already urged the courts, but sentencing is the responsibility of the courts,” he said.

“Currently, we cooperate with prosecutors to investigate some cases to collect more evidence.”

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